Fear in 13th Age

As GMs and as players, we want to immerse ourselves into the story that’s being told. Many games ask the GM to craft an elaborate world for the PCs to learn about. While the imagination can certainly take hold while describing that world, one of the best ways to get a player invested in it is to get their emotions invested. As a GM, you can’t expect your players to fall in love with all the NPCs you portray or want to prove their loyalty to the guild you’ve slaved over creating. But you could probably get them to fear the monsters they encounter. Yes, describing the demon in all its slavering glory could get the players trembling, but 13th Age has a mechanic built in to create fear within the character. This fear effect seems simple enough, but it comes with dire consequences.

Fear, at its very basic mechanic, forces the PC to be dazed and prevents them from using the escalation die. While not obviously dire, when the PCs are facing a Large Red Dragon with an AC of 25, (who does get to use that escalation die) the bonus from the escalation die goes a long way to helping the party land a hit. If the fighter has a -4 penalty due to being dazed and cannot use the escalation die from being afraid, the player is going experience some frustration as well as fear for their character’s life.

Typical monsters who have this effect are demons, devils, dragons, and really nasty minotaurs. Usually these monsters are the bigger, badder, out-to-wreck-the-party monsters. They will have a fear aura, which is based on the amount of hit points the character has. For example, a large red dragon is a level 10 monster. Any enemy engaged with this monster who has less than 72 hit points will succumb to fear. This penalty is intense as between the -4 Attack and lack of Escalation Die bonus, it’s doubling down on the PCs’ ability to fight the monster.

Players have a couple of different avenues for combating fear. The paladin class has a talent called Fearless, which allows them to be immune to fear. It has a few other sweet perks such as actually giving the player a bonus against enemies who have that fear aura and abilities. An Occultist can also choose a talent that has a feat which negates fear, but because that’s a champion feat; it’ll take some time to get that ability. Since all of the characters probably won’t be Paladins or Occultists that take those Talents, the other way to beat that fear aura is to either remove themselves from being engaged with that particular monster or to heal themselves above the fear threshold. There are very few monsters who allow the PCs to roll saving throws and shake off that fear.

As you run your next 13th Age game, we at Iconic hope that you will consider how to use this fear mechanic to further invest the players into the game, and we look forward to hearing your creative uses of it. Is there a room in the castle that has a fear threshold? Or will the characters inch closer to the unseen monster who lurks, waiting to devour all will and bravery? Would you let your players roll a wisdom check to see if they can withstand the horror?

Written by Becca